LONDON – Key players from the United Kingdom’s music industry have pledged to improve the digital metadata for song recordings to help ensure that artists and rightsholders are paid fairly.
Under the voluntary two-year agreement published Wednesday (May 31) by the U.K. government’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO), the U.K. industry commits to progressively improve metadata for new music recordings and to accurately award credits on streaming services.
Signatories include representatives of major and independent record labels, publishers, creators and streaming services. Trade bodes BPI —which represents more than 500 labels, including the U.K. arms of Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group — and the Association of Independent Music (AIM), which acts on behalf of U.K. independent record labels and music companies, are among the music groups backing the pledge
The U.K. government also says that it will be setting up a new working group with music business stakeholders “to explore and consider industry-led actions on remuneration for existing and future creators” over the coming weeks. The working group will review a range of issues facing creators and rightsholders, says the IPO, including the impact of artificial intelligence.
“The U.K. is a hotbed for world-beating musical talent but as technology advances we need our thriving music industry to continue to offer viable career opportunities,” John Whittingdale, a U.K. government minister for the creative industries, says in a statement.
Whittingdale calls the metadata pact a “landmark agreement” that will help ensure musicians “in the digital age are fairly credited and compensated for their contributions and creativity.”
As streaming has grown to become the dominant mode of music consumption globally, the need for accurate metadata — the descriptive data underlying music recordings detailing who contributed what to a song’s creation and who owns it — has grown in importance in determining who gets paid what share of a track’s streaming royalties. But digital platforms, artists and rightsholders have complained that streaming metadata is often incomplete or inaccurate, which delays payments to songwriters and labels.
“Currently a fraction of recordings being streamed properly credit the people that wrote and published the song,” says Graham Davies, CEO of U.K. songwriters trade group The Ivors Academy, which has also signed the metadata agreement.
In 2021 the Ivors Academy estimated that at least £500 million ($625 million) in global streaming royalties a year were being wrongly allocated or not being paid at all due to missing or incomplete metadata. In a statement, Davies says the pledge “gives us the first proper step on a journey of closing the metadata gap.”
Sophie Jones, BPI interim CEO, says she hopes the agreement will lead to “immediate improvements” in the “speed and accuracy of songwriter payments.”
Other music groups and companies backing what is officially titled the United Kingdom Industry Agreement on Music Streaming Metadata include The Digital Entertainment and Retail Association (ERA), whose members include streaming services; Hipgnosis Songs Fund; the Music Publishers Association (MPA); Musicians’ Union (MU); Featured Artists Coalition (The FAC) and U.K. collecting societies PRS for Music and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL).
Wednesday’s metadata agreement is the latest in an ongoing series of government-led interventions into the U.K. music industry that spun out of a Parliamentary inquiry into the economics of the music streaming business.
That initial review concluded in July 2021 with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Select Committee calling into question the major record labels’ dominance of the industry and branding the global streaming model as unsustainable in its current form, saying it “needs a complete reset.”
Since then, the government has initiated multiple investigations and inquiries into the U.K. music industry, including a market study review of the record business by the U.K. competition regulator. That ended in November when the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) determined that low returns from streaming for most artists “are not the result of ineffective competition” between the three major labels.
Last year the British government set up two working groups – led by the IPO and made up of industry stakeholders — looking at issues raised by the Parliament probe. One focused on metadata, which has now concluded. A second working group is looking at improving transparency around licensing and royalties for artists. The IPO says it is due to publish the second group’s findings, including a code of practice, in the coming months.
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